Gilligan to retire following 2016 season

Published 11:23 am Tuesday, September 22, 2015

BEAUMONT — For the better part of 38 years, head coach Jim Gilligan has been the face of the Lamar University Baseball. The skipper has been around and influenced the program since his playing days back in 1967, but alongside his wife LaVerne, Gilligan announced his plans to retire at the conclusion of the 2016 season during a press conference Monday afternoon in the Dauphin Athletic Complex.

Gilligan, who is a former pitching ace for Lamar University from 1967-68, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Bill Vincent in 1970 after a brief stint in Detroit’s Class-A affiliate in New York.

In 1972, he took his first head coaching job and led Western New Mexico to a 10-10 record.  After one year, his alma mater came calling; he answered and took over as head coach in 1973. Other than a brief stint as a professional club coach from 1987-1991, he’s been the skipper since.

“We are extremely grateful for all that Jim has done for Lamar University, the athletics department and especially the baseball program,” said Director of Athletics Jason Henderson. “Jim’s passion for Lamar University and baseball is unmatched.

“The mark that he has left on collegiate baseball and Lamar University will never be forgotten,” he said. “We are excited to celebrate his career this upcoming season and look forward to a great 2016 campaign.”

Just last season, he accomplished something that only 18 coaches in the history of the NCAA did before him, attain 1,300 career wins. That win came in a 7-6 season-opening victory over New Mexico State, and by the end of the season Gilligan claimed with 1,320 wins. His career record stands at 1,320-875-1, and all but two of Lamar’s 12 conference championships were won under Gilligan’s tutelage.

Counting his playing and graduate assistant days, he has faithfully served Lamar for more than 40 years and has seen nearly every Cardinal win. As a head coach, he as accounted for a staggering 29 30-win seasons, eight 40-win seasons and one 50-win season. His 1981 squad set a school record for wins in a season at 54.

“It’s time. I’ve coached here for six decades. If I go seven decades, I’ll just feel old,” said Gilligan with a chuckle. “I’m going to miss working with the players. I like watching the development of players.  I don’t have plans for what I’ll do yet, but I’m sure I’ll do something targeted that way.

“I’ve always been in pursuit of trying to do things right,” he said. “I think I did a good job of gaining knowledge I didn’t have before throughout my career.”

The six-time league coach of the year considers one of his greatest accomplishments to be his induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.  He went in alongside Houston Astro greats Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and Rangers’ Kenny Rogers.

He was also inducted into the Southland Conference Hall of Honor, and joined eight of LU’s best, J.B. Higgins, F.L. McDonald, Billy Tubbs, Belle Mead, Sonny Jolly, Katrinka Jo Crawford, Paul Zeek and Chris Stroud.

The City of Beaumont loved him so much that in 2010 it voted unanimously to rename a stretch of Florida Avenue running adjacent to Vincent-Beck Stadium to Jim Gilligan Way. Additionally, he was honored as a Distinguished Lamar Alum in 2012.

During his tenure, Gilligan guided the Cardinals to 12 NCAA Regional Tournaments, the most recent being 2010 after his group swept its way through the Southland Conference Tournament in Corpus Christi. From 1976-1981, a span of six years, he ran through four NCAA Regionals and worked up a 296-108-5 record during the time period. Three times in his career he went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, including three-straight from 2002-04. In those three seasons he accumulated a 117-58 record.

His 1976, 1977, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2004 seasons all netted him league coach of the year honors, all were Southland Conference honors except the 1993 award. He alone has more SLC Coach of the Year honors than every current program in the conference except Northwestern State.

His head coaching career is split into two periods. His first phase spanned from 1973-86 to which he led the Cardinals to seven league championships and six NCAA appearances.

His teams played twice in the NCAA Regional Finals, one step from a shot at the College World Series, but fell in both. He earned his 500th career victory in 1986, and was the youngest coach to ever do so at the time.

When he returned in 1992, Gilligan had to revive a struggling Cardinal program that had a 120-152-1 record in his absence. The worst of those in the season before he returned at 18-34. In 1992, he improved the Cards to a 32-21 record and followed that with a Sun Belt Conference Championship in 1993. Since that championship, he has won two more league crowns, three tournament championships and made five NCAA Regional appearances.

During his stint away from Lamar, Gilligan managed the 1987 Salt Lake Trappers of the Pioneer League. That team broke a 68-year professional record by winning 29 consecutive games. To recognize the achievement, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., created a permanent display featuring Gilligan’s No. 29 jersey, a number he still proudly wears today. Before becoming Salt Lake’s manager in 1987, he served as the Trappers’ pitching coach in 1986. In that season Salt Lake had the best pitching staff in the league and led the Trappers to the Pioneer League Championship.

The skipper claimed three-straight conference championships from 1975-77, which was only the second time a team in the league had done so. He accumulated 33 wins and only 12 losses in league play during that span, and the Cardinals did not drop a single conference series during the 1977 campaign.

When the Southland Conference celebrated its 50th anniversary, it released five all-decade teams and Gilligan was listed on four of them.  For the 1960s, he was listed on the team as a pitcher, and for the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s, he was listed as a coach.  Gilligan is the Southland Conference’s and Lamar’s winningest coach.

In 2003, Gilligan guided Lamar to its 11th regular season title and a spot in to a NCAA Regional hosted by Texas. Big Red came within one win of advancing a NCAA Super Regional after pushing the host Longhorns to a championship game. UT pulled out a 6-3 win over the Cardinals and went on to the College World Series.

Gilligan has coached 133 all-conference selections, 79 major league draftees, six major leaguers and four All-Americans during his career. Joe McCann (1976-79) is one of only two players to be named All-Southland Conference for four seasons, and Mike Laudig (1976-78) is one of only 13 to take the honors three times.

He has coached one Southland Conference Player of the Year, four Hitters of the Year and nine Pitchers of the Year.

“I would be slighting several teams to narrow down my favorite moment,” he said. “There are so many great players to come through here.”

His trademark has always been getting the most out of his players, especially the pitching staff, having been a pitcher himself. A former southpaw for LU, Gilligan led Lamar’s 1967 staff in victories (five), earned run average (2.54) and strikeouts (60).

“If I didn’t play here, I’m not sure that I would have started coaching,” said Gilligan. “I don’t think I would have gotten into this business for any other program but our own.”

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1969 and earned his master’s degree the following year. He and LaVerne, who was always instrumental in the success of the annual Lamar Baseball Banquet and securing outfield billboard sponsors, reside in Beaumont.